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  Field Notes From
Australia's Monsoon

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Australia's Monsoons On AssignmentArrows

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From Author

Roff Smith

Australia's Monsoons On Assignment

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From Photographer
Randy Olson

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Roff Smith (top) and Lynn Johnson


Australia's Monsoons On Assignment Author Australia's Monsoons On Assignment Author
Australia's Monsoon

Field Notes From Author
Roff Smith

Best Worst Quirkiest
    Easily the best part of this assignment was having the opportunity to catch up with Mick Jones, a great old friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in a few years. Through him I got to know the locals in the friendly and remote tropical town of Karumba, where Mick is the police sergeant. I spent many weeks there waiting on the rains, and by the time I left—after so much generous hospitality—I felt as though I must have known this town, these people, and the rugged Gulf Country itself for years.
    One evening in particular stands out. Just after I arrived I went on bush patrol with Mick and his police partner, Senior Constable Jason Jesse. We camped along one of the remote crocodile-filled rivers, listening to the sounds of the bush settle down for the night, watching the stars come out, and eating steaming hot chunks of fresh-caught barramundi, roasted whole on the coals and served up on strips of paperbark. Life just doesn't get better than that.

    While waiting on the monsoon that never seemed to arrive, Jason and I took a small fishing boat about 30 miles (50 kilometers) up the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, only to be caught totally unaware in a sudden wild electrical storm. It drenched us with torrential monsoonal rain, battered us with heavy swells, and forced us to seek refuge in the mangroves, where zillions of mosquitoes promptly emerged from the ooze and threatened to eat us alive.

    My three-year-old daughter Lucy packed one of her little stuffed friends, a snowman named Nunu, in my dufflebag to keep me company and so that he could see a bit of outback Australia.
    Nunu became something of a mascot, and with the help of good-humored locals, we sent Lucy photos of him in various settings along the way. He posed in pubs, in police cars, in smoky bush camps, and in the open mouth of a life-size model of a 28-foot (9-meter) crocodile, reputedly shot in the local river back in 1957. He also sat in the pilot's seat on the bridge of a huge ore carrier taking 5,000 tons (4,500 metric tons) of zinc sulphide out to a mother ship. But Nunu set off a round of laughter in an Aboriginal community on Bentinck Island, where I learned his name meant "breasts" in the local Kaiadilt language.


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